Letters: On course for catastrophe?


In a recent edition of the Electrical Review e-newsletter, I referred to an article from the Independent newspaper claiming the world is now firmly on course for the worse-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6°C by the end of the century: "Such a rise - which would be much higher nearer the poles - would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation."

Carbon dioxide emissions from transport, industry and deforestation across the world have increased enormously since 2002, at a much faster rate than anticipated; to the point of hitting treble the annual rate reached in the 90s.

We have all read what were previously thought to be scaremongering stories of this 6° rise and the potential devastation it would wreak on the planet. I asked Electrical Review's readers for their thoughts on these latest claims. Are we doomed or is this simply another scaremongering story? I was pleased, as always, to receive a number for responses from readers, two of which are reproduced below.

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Elinore Mackay

Dear editor,

Wow, another catastrophic CO2 prediction. We are all doomed, and it's all our fault.
Hype about the dreaded carbon emissions we are all busy killing ourselves with is simply out of control, and mostly rubbish. Carbon is not a major greenhouse gas, and we are not responsible for generating the majority of it that exists in the atmosphere.
More CO2 than man could ever make is produced by volcanoes, bio mass decomposition, livestock, and the earth's oceans. (Remember it is not a major greenhouse gas, nor even a significant one.)
For example, man made carbon emissions increased dramatically after the second world war as industry picked up around the world and man started to produce more than ever before. However, come the 1970s, despite all this extra CO2 being made by us for two decades, temperatures were actually dropping to the point that scientists were predicting another ice age. At the time they even suggested more CO2 should be pumped into the atmosphere to stop this from happening!
Should we save energy? Absolutely. Should we make more efficient and cleaner cars and aeroplanes? Definitely. Should we recycle waste, and support local producers? Of course. All this makes economic sense; it saves us money and it will improve our environment.
Agonize endlessly over CO2 emissions? I don't think so.
The fact is there are lucrative research grants and funding packages available providing you can somehow associate your work with CO2 emissions. What started as an interesting but fundamentally flawed theory, propagated by failures and 'wannabes' like Mr Al Gore, has been picked up but all sorts of different interest groups, as well as the lunatic fringe. It has gotten so bad that to even suggest it is all bunk is to be instantly ostracised by your peers, and shunned by the 'scientific' community. It is a very good example of the adage that states if a lie is repeated enough times it becomes the truth.
I have even read of a case recently where an employee successfully sued his ex-employers for unfair dismissal. He maintained the company's behaviour was at odds with his philosophy on climate change. He worked for a firm of property developers and the nature of their business was such he was required to attend meetings around the UK. In order to get to a meeting in Scotland, for example, and back in the same day, staff were expected to travel by air. Also, trains would have taken too long, and cost a great deal more.
The naive and misguided employee refused to travel in this way because of his green 'philosophy'. Predictably his employers let him go as he was clearly unable to fulfil his duties. A Judge determined his green philosophy was as valid as a religion, and since you cannot dismiss someone for their religious beliefs, he could not be dismissed either. The dire ramifications of this astonishing precedent have yet to be fully appreciated.
It concerns me greatly anyone taking an opposing view to the 'carbon doomsayers' is vilified and shouted down. It also concerns me greatly individuals such as Lord Stern should add even more fuel to this fire by making even more impractical suggestions. His 2006 report set out the consequences and costs of various levels of global warming. He has now called for humans to stop eating meat.
His reasoning is farm animals, especially cows and pigs, expel methane, which is 23 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, making meat-production account for 18% of all carbon emissions (I am not certain what he means by this since he was originally talking about methane). He says it will become as socially unacceptable to eat meat as it is to drink and drive.
Am I missing something here, or does this man seriously think the entire planet will become vegetarian? This whole business is getting way out of hand.
Yours faithfully
Julian Ding

Dear editor,

I was interested to read Julian's response to your story on climate change.
 I am a passionate believer in free speech, including views which we find uncomfortable.  My belief is this is the only sound basis for a secure democracy, one capable  of evolving and changing in response to various challenges and needs.
 So my response is not to attempt silence people with views as expressed by Juilan, but to challenge them. I have no axe to grind on this subject, but comment only as an engineer whom has been observing the various pieces of evidence over the last 10 to 15 years.
I will avoid detailing pages of evidence that contradict Julian's view, as this is available via the internet to any one seriously interested in the subject, but will stick to making a few points I feel are  relevant.
 1) I agree totally agree with Julian'a point: "Should we save energy? Absolutely. Should we make more efficient and cleaner cars and aeroplanes? Definitely. Should we recycle waste, and support local producers? Of course. All this makes economic sense; it saves us money and it will improve our environment."
However, most countries are unlikely to implement the above measures  to their full potential, with out the incentives of having to meeting substantially stricter CO2 emission targets than are in place at present.  To break that link, based on the scientific knowledge we have today would be absurd.
You might be forgiven for thinking the science consensus is up for graps reading Julian's letter. Nothing in Science is 100% totally sure, it's the best story to date using the evidence we have at that given moment. With that evidence our societies have to make the best decisions they can.
Decisions could turn out to be wrong, but in this case with the over whelming evidence coming in almost by the week, I'm confident our decendents would forgive us for erring on the side of caution, especially when you consider what's at stake here, and the fact that nearly all the actions required will benefit us in many ways and hopefully improve the quality of life for many.
So in a sense I'm not so sure what Julian is worried about, as the majority of solutions being pursued are ones that will clearly be good for us anyway, if not essential for the sustainable continuation of human civilistion as we know it.  Fossil fuels - which ever view we take - have a limited future, so it makes sense to start moving away now rather than leave it to the last minute and risk the turmoil that could ensue.
2) Julian seems to infer some kind of outlook based on the assumption of blame . It's not a case of individual blame or naughtiness! Collectively we have to be mature, take responsibility and try  to make our impact on this amazing  planet of ours sustainable.
As the world's population gets greater and greater, the margin for error is growing increasingly small. The planet's ability to absorb our increasing impact is growing less forgiving.
3) The evidence of warming trend - The famous ‘Hockey Stick evidence' originates from a  chart showing the temperature data from Mann et al. 1999 study. This has been the subject of much debate and some controversy over the years. However, the findings have been scrutinised by some of the most reputable scientists in the world, at the American National Academy of Sciences' (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) and American Association for the Advancement of Science. Government scientists from countries around the world have been at the forefront of the scrutiny and debate of the evidence on warming. Although some concerns were raised on the reliability of some of the data used, particularly from hundreds of years ago, and regarding different statistical methods used, the general findings of the Mann et al.1999 study have held up to scrutiny.
Different statistical methods have been applied to the data, with the findings again in favour of the direction of the original findings. Just recently more accurate data has been used and again, the findings are in line with the original.  
At the request of the US Congress, a special Committee on Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Past 2000 Years was assembled by the National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. The Committee consisted of 12 scientists from different disciplines and was tasked with explaining the current scientific information on the temperature record for the past two millennia, and identifying the main areas of uncertainty, the principal methodologies used, any problems with these approaches and how central the debate is to the state of scientific knowledge on global climate change. The panel published its report in 2006.
Some minor problems were identified with the research methods used to date, and the accuracy of some historical data,  but these issues were not of any significance to the general results. The general findings were again upheld by the Council.
In a paper published on 9 September 2008, Mann and colleagues published an updated reconstruction of Earth surface temperature for the past two millennia.[63] This reconstruction used a more diverse dataset that was significantly larger than the original tree-ring study. Like the original study, this work found recent increases in northern hemisphere surface temperature are anomalous relative to at least the past 1300 years, and this result is robust to the inclusion or exclusion of the tree-ring dataset. In summary it iss difficult to see where the doubters base their evidence. None of the issues detailed by Julian were judged to alter the general thrust of the results by the expert scientists.
The over whelming scientific consensus is in general agreement with the evidence for increased warming.
Not many dispute  there are natural cylces in warming and cooling, linked to sun activity, but the link has failed to acount for increases in temperature over the last 30/40 years. The Scientific studies taken with the mass of recent observation of fast-retreating ice sheets, warming of sea temperatures, rising sea levels, satellite evidence, increased CO2 concentrations (parts per million) raising by the year, acidification of sea water (affecting coral reefs), species movement (fish, insects etc) and an increase in extreme weather events surely point to at least the need for desicive action by our political leaders. But don't just believe me, check all the above out for yourself.   
John Roberts
Newham Dockside